After getting absolutely worked by weather recently, we decided to have a day on a most reliable bit of water – and stay under the careful protection of willows. Earlier in the trip we’d walked up a willowy trench of knee-deep water and engaged a few nice browns. The forecast was for a cloudy day with showers – perfect for willowy goodness as the cloudy, filtered light is perfect for lighting up every nook and cranny of all the holding spots and spotting becomes exceptional. Finally, we could use the weather to our advantage again.
Naturally we woke up to a stunner of a sun rise. Not a cloud in sight. And as we walked up the wee stream I was cussing the day. It was cold and sunny. And as we walked up to the willowy trench we spotted clouds on the horizon. They weren’t gong to arrive any time soon so we had a go into the willows. The shade lines under each willow left black shadows everywhere. This wasn’t going to go well. We hadn’t spotted a fish yet as the water had lowered and warmed since our last visit and the browns had dropped out to the larger river. And as we walked up the trench I slowed my pace. Amelia was over my shoulder as I said “Last time that fish was right there” as I took one step forward. A 6 or 7 pound brown bolted upstream 40 yards. ‘About right!” we giggled. The wake was impressive.
We walked up toward the top of the run, knowing where that fish had gone. In water like that, it was already over. A spooked fish like that is going to spook the lot. We spoke of a rich, golden brown that had held in the pocket at the top and no doubt it was put off by the spooked fish. So it was no surprise that as we got up toward the head, from 10 yards up a wake was coming back down to us. As it came down we saw another wake join it 4 yards above us from the pocket we anticipated the other. And a second later, two nice browns went whipping past. Again, predictable.
As we went up, I lamented that it would be nice if we could each simply have one engagement with a nice brown, with a nice, slow head rise to a dry fly. Just one each like that would be stellar given the day. As we walked up the sun did us no favors, nor did the lack of fish. We began to suspect the only fish would be in a willow pool further up.
We were hoping anyway.
At right, the willow on the right was the pool we hung our hopes upon.
As we came up from below, we stuck close to the trunk of the massive willow and peered into the pool. Given the sunny day, the water was oil slick black with sun spots.
Likely the last stop on the day, we stood for 10 minutes and watched. The incoming run was 9 feet wide and just calf deep. A perfect split, the current eddied to the right into a good pool while there was a good, deep trough spilling out from under the main willow. On the main seam splitting the two, a head popped on the oily slick. 5 minutes went by and the wind swayed the willows, revealing a wavering tail atop a red rock in the top eddy before the gusts stopped. It was a well stationed fish. Another several minutes and in the sun spot at our feet another nice fish appeared along the shoreline before disappearing. There were 3 fish in the pocket. With such low, clear water, the odds were we’d land one and spook the other two. Or get takes from all 3 and miss them all. Or worse.
As we stood and waited for a spell longer, it was obvious this was the day. After a good 40 minutes watching and waiting for the fish to show their pattern of cycle, the fat fish holding on the red rock was stationed, so too the fish in the main seam drop off. The cruising fish of the eddy was the wild card.
The Plan, See, The Plan was this: AJ would get immediately below the willow on the tailout side and cast to the fish in the main seam, hook it, then pull it to the tail out, thus minimizing any impact on the fish in the eddy. Upon landing said fish, we’d rest things a spell and then I’d sneak around to the head of the pool (downstream of the fish in the eddy) and sneak into position to work the fat fish sitting on the red rock. We were also both wearing bright blue shirts, so we thought since we were in such tight quarters, we’d put our grey jackets on to help. While we don’t believe in worrying about clothing colors, as this was our only opportunity, let’s go all in and play the game.
Don’t you love plans?
As it was, Amelia’s fish in the main seam had only risen twice in 40 minutes. She slowly got into place as I wedged into the crook of willow limbs. Two sunspots glowed on the water, one spotlighting a wee white rock. I called that out and she could see it from her vantage. Unexpectedly, the fish rose 4 times in quick succession and worry about working the seam by the wee white rock in the sun spot went out the window. From my vantage the fish swayed into that sunspot. Beautiful. Then out of my vision into glare. AJ laid out a sweet cast and on the black, oil slick and the fly drift down as a large head rose and sucked it in. Bingo.
That’s when Plan A went seemingly out the window. AJ tried to horse it downstream. Nope. Straight over to the eddy. Jump #1 was along the far shoreline where fish #3 had been spotted cycling. Jump #2 couldn’t possibly have landed any better on top of where my large brown had been holding.
To cap it off, her fish then proceeded to run up to the top of the run and tire, meaning we’d have to expose ourselves to the other two fish by running up to net it right across from the fish.
Perfectly to plan.
The upside was that we were at least methodical in our approach, wearing dull color, and we were in the low light of the willow’s shade. Maybe, just maybe the other two browns would pay more attention to Frank ripping through the pool than to us.
With Amelia’s fish landed, we took it downstream for a few photos. It was a nice brown of 5 1/2 pounds.
With Plan A still on track, albeit a different version than we’d planned, we simply took our photos, released the fish into the best current we could find (the water was warming and riffled water is best), and snuck below the willow to have lunch. AJ was beaming. It was a wonderful moment to watch. And with my 3 layers and AJ’s 4 layers of clothes we were able to enjoy the warmth of the sun while enjoying lunch.
About a half hour later we snuck back to the willow and gave a good look. Nothing. No fish cruising and glare now covered my hoped for big fish on the red rock. Perfect. After 15 minutes I simply decided to sneak round to my planned position at the top of the run, sneaking in downstream of the eddy fish. As I did the wind began to howl. “Must be my turn again” I mumbled, now used to conditions crapping out in a moment when my turn. I chose to see the bright side “might as well use the cover of the chop to my advantage” and snuck in low.
I sat on my bum for another 15 minutes before a rise popped across from me. I waited 10 more minutes and saw a tail cross the sun spot mid pool. Then another rise as the shoreline cruiser showed. I cast to it but kept my cast short of where we thought the larger fish had held. No takers. I wasn’t going to risk lining the hoped-for large fish by blindly casting to a known cruising fish I couldn’t see. I waited.
Finally, the change of my luck benefited me. The sun that plagued my fishing this day combined with the howling wind at one magical moment. The swaying willow in the suddenly gale wind revealed glowing pectoral and caudal fins on the bottom of the pool. The large fish was home. I cast twice and was short thanks to that same wind. But the third cast… right where I’d hoped. Given the fish was not doing much, I pulled out an old Red Deer R tactic from guiding days – I gave the caddis a foot pull to skitter it on the surface. I simply saw those pec and caudal fins disappear upward, rising into glare and told Amelia “He’s coming”. A second later a large head sucked in my dry. The fight on that one was exceptional. Hot. Fun! 8 1/4 lbs. Sweet.
Plan A? Fulfilled. Joy. 14 pounds of fish from a small pool like that, all according to plan? Magic.
And circumstantially lucky.